Destiny or Chance?
COMMENTARY: Destiny is filled with both meaning and mystery. Chance shuts the door and causes life to fall backwards into a realm of meaninglessness.
From my early days in grammar school, I found the word “destiny” to be utterly captivating. For me, it was like a door that opened to fascinating, unknown, and important vistas.
The first thing that this special word brought to my mind was that it excluded chance. If there is such a thing as destiny, then chance is eliminated from the cosmic picture. Chance shuts the door and causes life to fall backwards into a realm of meaninglessness. Destiny is filled with both meaning and mystery. It inaugurates a splendid voyage to who knows where.
There can be no such thing as pure chance. As Aristotle explained, chance is merely the intersection of two lines of causality. I am going to the store to buy something and, by chance, meet a friend. My going to the store is one line of causality. It is an action that is deliberate and purposeful. The same can be said for my friend. His action is also deliberate and purposeful. We meet by chance. And yet, we wonder whether we were destined to meet. In this sense, we can readily understand why people can dismiss the notion of destiny as a form of supersition or wishful thinking.
The 19th-century philosopher/poet, Giacomo Leopardi captures the essence of life without destiny or meaning when he states the following:
“To human kind fate has decreed nothing but death. Scorn now thy self, and Nature, and that brutal power that, hidden, governs to the universal hurt and the infinite vanity of all things.”
For Leopardi, “Death is not evil, for it frees man from all ills and takes away his desires with desire’s rewards.”
I could not accept Leopardi’s pessimism. There was a strong sense alive within my soul that there is such a thing as destiny and, therefore, there is a destiny for me. My moment in the present was a prelude to something larger and more fulfilling.
Life cannot be reduced to chance. A destiny awaited me. This notion, however, was shrouded in mystery. My destiny is, in one sense, something that is outside of me and yet, it is something associated with something inside of me.
I am placed in a world that is far too complex for me to begin to understand. And yet, if I have a destiny there must be an array of factors that participate in the workling out of my destiny. In his highly thought-provoking book, Freedom, Grace, and Destiny, theologian Father Romano Guardini (1885-1968) contends:
“Destiny fulfils itself as it proceeds from the totality beyond my ken through the various layers of my immediate world and draws near to myself. The point of occurrence is in myself, my individual existence, more precisely, my person.”
Destiny, then, involves me as a free individual, God’s plan for me, the cooperation of many people and even more impersonal factors, plus that myserious connection between myself and God which is called “grace.”
Experience speaks more convincingly than words. Years ago, I was bound for Kamloops, British Columbia. It was a rainy day and my plane from Hartford, Connecticut, was delayed. As a result, I missed my connecting flight and subsequently boarded another plane, one that had just arrived from Paris, and headed for Vancouver. I was richly compensated by being given a seat in the First Class section.
My companion sitting next to me had heard me speak at a conference and was familiar with my thought. He urged me to write a book about virtue and would help in financing its publication. Another person, a lady who lived in upstate New York, had sent me a letter urging me to write the same book. I had taken her letter with me.
I began writing the book fully confident that God was with me and that the book would be published. A number of people cooperated in this venture almost as if they and the incidents surrounding them belonged to its development. When the book came out, a series of exraordinary “coincidences” (or were that “God-incidences) took place. I will mention but one: A former student of mine contacted a woman through a dating service who lived in Illinois. In discussing their likes and dislikes over the phone, they were astonished to learn that their favorite book was none other than my humble effort, The Heart of Virtue. My wife and I were present at their wedding and their marriage has produced two beautiful daughters, Therese, and Faustina. The book has been translated into Korean.
It is highly improbable that this extraordinary sequence of events (I have only touched the surface) could be explained away by chance. The more realistic explanation involves the fulfillment of a destiny, a mysterious cooperation through grace between myself and God accompanied by a countless number of factors that were prefectly integrated into an elaborateyet well orchestrated plan.
“You have to trust something,” writes Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, “your gut, destiny, life, karma, whetever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Was Jobs following the destiny that God had in mind for him without realizing it?”
“Mournful yet grand,” wrote Franz Liszt, “ is the destiny of the artist.” Our destiny will have its disappointment and setbacks, but they are simply the necessary ingredients of our destiny which is God’s plan for us.